Is Erdoğan different from Israel’s Netanyahu?

Is Erdoğan different from Israel’s Netanyahu?

There is a major difference between the upcoming parliamentary elections and previous ones: This is the first time President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has asked for votes from the Turkish people for “himself.”

In his frequent public rallies, Erdoğan has said he wants 400 lawmakers so they can swiftly amend the constitution to change the administrative system into a presidential one. His daily live-broadcasted statements only focus on the presidential system - based on a so-called “Turkish model” - and its advantages, as well as harsh criticisms against opposition parties who describe Erdoğan’s ambitions as another step on the way to establishing his own dictatorship.

Recent public opinion surveys indicate that a good majority of the Turkish people have not yet been convinced that the presidential system would be good for Turkey, while another survey has suggested that the percentage of opponents to the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) exceeds the percentage of pro-AKP people in Turkey for the first time.    

These surveys also indicate that a good majority of the Turkish people have difficulty understanding why building a grandiose new presidential palace in Ankara was necessary while there was an already-established palace that has been used for decades. The “Ak Saray” (“White Palace” in English) will always create question marks in the minds of ordinary Turkish people for as long as it stands. For many, the palace is a physical representation of the growing perception of Erdoğan’s one-man rule.

In my column published on Feb. 7 with the title “June elections are Erdoğan’s, not Davutoğlu’s,” I tried to draw attention to how the two leaders differed about the objectives of the upcoming parliamentary elections. Developments since then have only proven this argument, as Erdoğan has not hesitated to publicly show his power over Davutoğlu and the government.

The first development was Hakan Fidan’s desperate return to his job as chief of the National Intelligence Organization (MIT) after serious public criticism from Erdoğan. With this move, Erdoğan nearly nixed whatever was left of Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu’s image and proved once again that he was the ultimate boss.

(It should also be recalled that this move came after Erdoğan pressed the government to postpone a draft law on transparency out of fears that Davutoğlu wanted to disassociate himself from Erdoğan-centered corruption and graft claims.)

The second development took place on March 20, just a day before the crucially important Nevruz festival, where a statement from Abdullah Öcalan, the imprisoned leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), will be announced. Erdoğan said he did not approve the government’s move to establish a monitoring committee as part of the Kurdish peace process, just a day after Deputy Prime Minister Yalçın Akdoğan heralded the formation of the committee.

But more importantly, Erdoğan’s statement comes only days after Selahattin Demirtaş, the co-leader of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), loudly declared that “Erdoğan will never be able to be super-president as long as the HDP exists.”

At the point where we have arrived, Erdoğan’s ambition to adopt the presidential system - and to transfer more power to himself from the executive and legislative branches - seems to be placed at the core of the pre-election campaign. It is very obvious that Erdoğan believes that steps to be taken as part of the Kurdish question would cause him to lose votes to the nationalist opposition, while at the same time the HDP would garner more votes from the grassroots of the AKP as well as from the Republican People’s Party (CHP) to pass the 10 percent election threshold.

That is why President Erdoğan and his AKP government will likely take a break in the Kurdish peace process after Nevruz is over and return to their highly nationalistic, religious and conservative language, at the expense of reversing the gains won so far in the peace process.

Looking from this perspective, Erdoğan, who may risk the Kurdish peace process in order to claim another election victory, is little different from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who surprisingly won the recent general election in Israel after declaring that he would never allow the establishment of a Palestinian state.